The OmniTread is operated by a joystick and an umbilical cord. The umbilical cord sends commands to specially designed software while providing electric power to the snake-shaped robot. The robot is composed of five box-shaped segments connected through their middle by a long drive shaft spine
In the joints connecting the segments are pneumatic bellows. The significant advantage of bellows is that although they take up a minimal amount of space, they are powerful and naturally compliant. The bellows provide enough torque for the OmniTread to lift its two front or rear segments in order to climb on objects.
The unique pneumatic control method allows simultaneous proportional control of the robot’s stiffness and of the angles at its joints. In addition, all the segments are covered from all sides with extra wide moving tracks. Much like a tire touching a road, the treads that cover most of the OmniTread’s body propel it onward and prevent it from getting stuck on rough terrain.
In 2005, an improved model of the OmniTread was developed. In addition to the above features, this model also has innovative micro-clutches, which allow selective engagement or disengagement of each individual track for maximal power saving. Another improvement is that the new model is designed to carry onboard electric energy sources that can power the robot for up to 75 minutes of operation. The onboard pneumatic power is provided by two micro-compressors.
The earlier OmniTread model is called OT-8. It weighs 26 pounds and can fit through an 8-inch diameter hole. The newer version of the OmniTread is called OT-4, is constructed of 7 segments and weighs only 9 pounds. It is capable of fitting through a 4-inch diameter hole.
A video showing the OT-4 climbing vertical obstacles can be found here.
Further information on the OmniTreads can be found at the University of Michigan webpage.